The day is upon us. Mick Fanning is back at Jeffreys Bay.
It’s strange, because, in all honesty, things feel normal. Combed rights scrape across the iconic J-bay reef the way they always do. The air is crisp. Mick is surfing sharp, as he does.
But there’s an unsettling subtext on the beach.
Nearly one year ago today, a great white shark lunged directly at Mick Fanning on live webcast, and Fanning fought the shark off, terrified for his life. As Kelly Slater noted in an interview immediately following the attack, that moment became the most well-documented live shark attack ever, clocking 23 million views on Youtube and many more across editorial outlets ranging from CNN to ESPN. Public interest in surfing had never been higher. After a litany of emotions gripped friends, family, competitors, and viewers worldwide, all that remained were two worlds of professional surfing: Before Mick’s attack…and after.
Today, we sat down with Mick Fanning on the eve of the 2016 J-Bay Open to get a sense for his headspace entering the event. The fame cast upon him is not one that he wanted. He’s a private person. Outside of gaining notoriety for winning three world championships, he didn’t ask for the attention,so you get the sense he’d be happy to never discuss sharks ever again. He’s eager to move on – probably one of the primary reasons he decided to come back to Jeffreys Bay.
“I’m not the guy that really loves a lot of media attention or anything like that,” said Mick. “I don’t want to be crazy famous. I don’t want to be in the spotlight every single day. So I just tried to get on with life as best I can and try to be me.”
He’s gotten a few warm-up surfs in. The nerves appear to be settling, and despite the fact that he hurt his ankle during a warm up surf, his camp remains optimistic that he’ll be able to compete next week. He’s handling the media scrutiny as best he can. While last year’s dramatics have certainly boosted interest levels in this year’s event, Mick is keen to eliminate distractions and do what he does best: surf.
So he will. And, eagerly, the world will watch.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Skullcandy and Paul Daniel for their support of this feature.